It’s Monday, 13 May, 2019. I have an appointment tomorrow with a hematologist. I guess I should be looking forward to it. But I’m not.
A little background by way of introduction. It all started last month when I phoned my doctor’s office to make an appointment for an annual check-up. Pretty uneventful prospect. I’m thinking, OK, I’ll get lectured for being too fat. He’ll ask me if I smoke (I don’t), do drugs (I don’t), drink (socially). You know, the usual stuff. And he’ll put in a lab order for blood work.
Well, the appointment went just as expected. A few days later, about two weeks ago, on a Tuesday, I stopped at the lab to have my blood drawn. You have to fast (I hate that!) so I was there first, bright and early, on my way to work. Blood drawn and that’s that.
But that wasn’t that…
I forgot all about the appointment and the labs and went on with my life. But the lab didn’t forget about me. A few days later, on a Saturday afternoon, I was driving home from grocery shopping when my phone rang. Bluetooth. “Hello?” It’s the doctor. Huh? On a Saturday afternoon? “I’m concerned about your blood work…high protein…low sodium…cancer…concerned…HIV…hepatitis…”. When you get a call like that, your doctor using the C word, and adding words like HIV and hepatitis, you stop hearing all the other words. “I want you to have more blood tests.” “OK, I’ll do it Monday.” Now, trust me, HIV and hepatitis were out of the question. Nuns get more action than I do. But cancer? Did he actually say that? No. OK, don’t get silly. He wants more tests. That’s all. It’ll be fine.
More blood tests
So I left work early on Monday and went by the lab on my way home. No fasting this time. They took FIVE vials of blood and a full cup of urine. Jesus. OK. That will take care of it. It’s nothing. Relax. Just a few days. Come on doc, call. And what did I do every evening while I waited? I researched. I googled. “Blood test results; low sodium; high protein.” Myeloma. That’s bone marrow cancer. Rare. No cure. What? Oh come on! What about prostate cancer? Colon cancer? Lung cancer? What about one of those annual 5K “I beat cancer’s ass” cancers? Fuck. Really? A rare incurable blood cancer? Who gets that? I guess that’s why it’s rare. OK, don’t be an armchair quarterback. You don’t know anything yet. Stop it! You’re obsessing. Be patient.
Finally, the call. Thursday night I’m having our weekly dinner out with my brother, sister-in-law, and some friends. My phone rings. “Hey, I have to take this,” and I excuse myself and step outside. “Hi!” So pleasant. If I’m pleasant he can’t give me bad news. We’re negotiating? “Mr. Marulli, based on the results of the additional blood tests I think it’s ‘pre-cancer’.” Huh? That’s really a thing? “OK. What do I do now?” The oncology center will call and make an appointment. “Thank you doc.” Thank you? Well, I mean, he was nice enough to call me on a Thursday night.
Pre-cancer. Myeloma. Multiple myeloma.
I return to the table and, in shock, kind of just spit it out. Bone marrow cancer. Like, how do I not say it? I’ve just received a shock. What else could I have said? “Hey gang, that was my apartment maintenance guy. Water pipe broken. Flood. I have to get going.” Looking back I guess that’s what I should have said. Shit. You always think of these things after the fact. But I say it. Bone marrow cancer. Then they say stuff. I don’t really hear them. Shock. Then I say I need to go. We exchange the usual pleasantries and we’re off. Just another Thursday night dinner. Weird.
Pre-cancer. Myeloma. Multiple myeloma. Come on Google! I look up the blood test indications from the lab results in my phone app. Every low and high result appears in red. Damn. Lots of red. It looks like I failed a spelling test. OK Google, give me some hope. This result is high, that result is low. Search … blood cancer, blood cancer, blood cancer… Fuck you Google. What did the doctor say? Somebody will call me? I think that’s what he said. Be calm Nick. Chill. Wait.
An appointment, more waiting, Google
I get a call the next day from a hematologist’s office at the oncology center. An appointment in one month. Huh? You tell me I have this pre-cancer thing and now I have to wait a month to see an oncologist! OK. Just be calm. Get on with your life. You don’t know anything. God, a month?
A few days go by. What am I doing every night? Of course. Googling . Could be Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undermined Significance (MGUS). What the hell kind of term is that? Em-Gus. Sounds harmless. Almost cute. Like a hamster’s name. Em-Gus. A pre-cancer for myeloma. 3% of the population over 50. That’s not so rare. Is it? I don’t know. 20% chance of mutating into malignant myeloma in my lifetime. OK. No, really, OK. Not awful odds. Some problems. Burning sensation in the feet and hands. Yes! So that’s what is causing that. Some difficulty breathing. OK. Explains that. Occasional bloody nose and gums. Check and check. OK. But that’s all just old age. We all get old age stuff. We can deal with this.
Also could be Smoldering Multiple Myeloma (SMM). Smoldering? WTF? Who makes up these terms. My friend Sue said the word smoldering should be reserved for sex, not cancer (I love Sue!). Pre-cancer. Myeloma. Damn. This one, not so much. 50% chance of malignant myeloma within five years. 70% chance within 10 years. OK, I pick MGUS. Done deal. Let’s move on.
A few days later the oncology center calls. “The doctor wants to move up your appointment to next Tuesday.” Yay! Less waiting. Let’s take care of this. Wait. What? She wants to move it up. Why? Shit. Is that good?
Waiting and obsessing
So here we are. The night before my appointment. What have I done pretty much every day since I heard? Google. Hoping to find that resource I missed explaining that along with MGUS and SMM, there’s, I don’t know, False MM. Same blood test results but actually just blah blah blah… Tomorrow. What to expect? Probably a bone marrow test. Maybe she’ll order a PET scan, which is basically x-rays of all my bones to create a baseline. Myeloma is not nice. Brittle bones, easily fractured. Pain. Why this one? I want an “I beat cancer’s ass” cancer! Fuck. So now, finally, tomorrow. Please tell me something. Anything. Just give me some idea of what’s next. Tomorrow…